Character Names Help Characterize
A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but do you really WANT to smell a swamp lily? Doesn’t the name itself just put you off? Or consider that in early drafts Margaret Mitchell is supposed to have named her famous heroine Pansy, instead of Scarlett O’Hara. Do you believe that Pansy would have done the things that Scarlett did? Never!
Naming characters is important! Here are some things to consider:
- Can you pronounce the name? Especially for fantasies, beware of invented names which no one can pronounce. Remember how hard–and frustrating–it is to read all the begats of the Bible–and don’t do that to your reader.
- Appropriate for the story? If you’re writing a contemporary or a modern history story, use appropriate names for that time period. Try looking at the Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names by year.
- What does it mean? Think about the meaning of the names. Look for baby name books that explain the meaning behind a name. Often when I’m in the early stages of writing a story, I am more worried about the meanings, because I want it to represent something about the character. By the time the final draft is done, I’m often forgotten what the name means, but the extra layer of meaning is still there.
My mother tells me, by the way, that the year I was born, Pet Evaporated Milk put out a book of baby names. That’s where she found the name, Darcy. (It was years before I ever heard of Mr. Darcy.) Together with my maiden name, my name means Dark Fortress. My husband’s name means Blond Warrior. Dark Fortress meets Blond Warrior. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven!
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